Opinion What makes Adam Schiff tick?

19:05  09 october  2019
19:05  09 october  2019 Source:   thehill.com

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Adam Schiff wearing a suit and tie looking at the camera: What makes Adam Schiff tick?© Greg Nash What makes Adam Schiff tick?

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Sometimes, the people who are least expected to break out of the back benches of Congress end up shattering that assumption. They are, for a brief time, underestimated and overlooked, eclipsed by seniority. They plod along and head down whatever policy road they enjoy. Then something catapults them to national prominence.

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To suggest that Adam Schiff experienced that one breakout moment is a mistake. It does not appreciate the long path he has traveled. I first met Schiff in the fall of 2000, amidst the dizzying swirl of dinners, receptions, briefings, and orientations for new members of Congress. We had both run that year in nationally profiled races. Schiff opposed James Rogan, who was ironically one of the Republican managers of the Clinton impeachment. I ran in the Long Island district previously held by Republican Rick Lazio, who left the House to oppose Hilary Clinton for the Senate.

Our early days were humbling. For some reason, we were confused with one another. People would toss a cheery "Hi Adam" at me in the corridors of the Capitol. Schiff. Israel. Los Angeles. New York. You be the judge of the confusion. We would often meet for dinner at Bullfeathers, not far from the Capitol, with our fellow Democratic freshmen, Mike Ross and Jim Matheson, and commiserate on the challenges of representing tough Republican leaning districts.

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Schiff and I initially had a casual relationship, the kind that binds new members navigating Congress. But September 11th changed all that. Suddenly, a former state senator from California and a former town councilman from New York had been thrust with our colleagues into a complex and volatile global security arena. We were also concerned that our Democratic Party was viewed by many voters as weak on military issues. Along with Representative David Scott, we formed the Democratic Study Group on National Security Policy. We convened intensive tutorials with thought leaders, including former Senator Sam Nunn on nuclear proliferation, journalist Peter Beinart on terrorism, and even former Speaker Newt Gingrich on why Republicans were viewed as more muscular than Democrats on military issues.

That is when I noticed something about Schiff. He was both cerebral and strategic. He plumbed the depths of an issue, but understood that such proficiency only made him a policy wonk. It was matching the proficiency to an operational strategy that made him effective. We sat next to one another on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations and traveled together. He visited my district and I visited his. We even joined the House Blue Dogs as two coastal suburban Jewish guys surrounded mostly by rural conservative Democrats with deep southern drawls.

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In 2013, House Republicans, who today complain about overzealous investigations of President Trump, launched their umpteenth investigation of the Obama administration, specifically a select committee "to investigate and report on the attack on the United States consulate in Benghazi." Many House Democrats suggested that we not legitimize the stacked hearings by participating. I argued that if we had to participate, it should be with somebody who could hold his own against Republicans.

Nancy Pelosi found the perfect person to serve under Ranking Member Elijah Cummings. That person was Schiff. In those hearings, he exhibited political muscle and intellect. He was the potent combination of a former federal prosecutor and an intelligence expert. Observing him was like watching a future baseball Hall of Famer in his rookie year, adjusting his stance and understanding how to connect with the ball. Schiff and I later joked that his reward for opposing Democratic participation in the committee was being put on the committee.

What people do not know about Schiff is that he does not let his stature marbleize. His sense of humor is at times goofy. He flawlessly recites lines from the film The Big Lebowski. He invited me to perform a comedy act with him at The Improv in Los Angeles. We were not exactly Abbott and Costello. He sometimes sends texts of jokes on social media, including a few where he is the butt of the joke. His humor is often based on his humility.

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I learned firsthand of his growing stature about three years ago, when he and his wife visited my now wife Cara and me. We were strolling through a remote village on the east end of Long Island. He ducked into a bookstore. I noticed, across the street, a man staring at me. I was used to Long Islanders, not exactly shy or retiring, stopping me to ask a question or make a point. "Here we go," I whispered to Cara as the man rushed towards us. "Excuse me," he said excitedly, "Is that Adam Schiff inside?"

Early on, while eating those dinners at Bullfeathers, I doubt that any of us would have predicted that Schiff would be recognized a continent away from his district in California. This is important for my Republican friends to understand. He is not an overnight success. He is not the guy who is propelled by headlines but by fine lines. He cares not for talking points but for footnotes. He has prepared for this moment studiously. He is serious but does not take himself too seriously. He understands how to take a hit and throw one back. It will not be a violent club to the head but an intellectual jab that leaves his opponents reeling.

Now, President Trump and many Republicans are on offense. The more potent the threat, the sharper the attack. They must discredit, vilify, and tarnish the brand. They want to "Pelosify" him by spending whatever it takes in a relentless blitz of of name calling. No surprise here. If he were a pushover, they would be plastering his bumper stickers on their cars. Political leaders often find their time. Critical times often find political leaders. In the case of Adam Schiff, he took his time, wisely.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.

McConnell tells Senate Republicans to be ready for impeachment trial of Trump .
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